The Power of Autonomy: Why It Matters in Psychology


In psychology, autonomy is the capacity to make decisions on your own instead of relying on other people. The ability to be autonomous must be developed gradually. One of the best instances of autonomy is how, from being completely dependent on our parents as newborns, we gradually began to become independent as a result of experience and peer pressure. We still have to deal with social pressure and expectations as adults. Since inner-directed people seem to be independent and self-sufficient, following their own “internal gyroscope” and unaffected by what other people say, autonomy and inner-directedness are sometimes misunderstood.

Inner-directed people can also be labelled as Autonomous, according to Cheek and Hogan (1983). However, this ignores the fact that the inner-directed person’s parents were the initial source of their internal gyroscope. The Inner-Directed type often internalizes their parents’ laws and ideals so well that they become unaware. They may mistakenly believe that their deeply held ideas and opinions are consciously chosen, rather than being the product of early parental influence.

Self-determination theory is frequently examined in autonomous behaviour research. This idea holds that people’s psychological requirements for relatedness, competence, and autonomy are innate. People have higher levels of intrinsic motivation, self-esteem, and subjective well-being when these demands are met.

Read More: The Psychology of Determination

In many respects, this independence is essential. Individuals with the ability to act independently are more likely to succeed academically, perform well at jobs, and generally feel happy. However, issues like low self-esteem, a sense of helplessness, and inferior mental health are more likely to arise when you believe that other people are in charge of your future.

Autonomy and Self-Determination

According to self-determination theory, which is a theory of human motivation, for a person to have optimal psychological well-being, they must satisfy three fundamental requirements. People need to believe that their needs, motivations, behaviours, and preferences are in harmony for them to feel autonomous. People can therefore feel as though they are living their lives by their interests and direction as a result of this.

Extrinsic and intrinsic motivation are the two main types of motivation, according to the theory. Intrinsic motivation comes from inside, whereas extrinsic motivation focuses on using rewards and penalties to influence behaviour. People do things just because they enjoy and feel good about themselves.

Why Autonomy is important

Motivation, general life happiness, and well-being can all benefit from autonomy. People are more likely to encounter the following when they believe they have autonomy over their lives and are free to make decisions:

  • Authenticity: Autonomous People believe they are living true to who they are. They are free to live by their principles and interests rather than having decisions imposed upon them by other people or their environment.
  • Individual growth: People can develop and learn more about themselves, their hobbies, and their views when they are given the freedom to make their own decisions. Autonomous living also promotes learning and development since it forces individuals to accept accountability for their decisions.
  • Creativity: Being able to follow your passions and interests freely can inspire original ideas and creative thinking. People feel less pressure to solve problems according to predetermined tactics when they are allowed to accomplish their tasks in any way they desire. People may become more creative thinkers and feel more pride and ownership in their work as a result of this.
  • Motivation: Having autonomy can also make people feel more driven to participate in the process and strive toward their objectives. This may result in increased productivity and success as well as increased job and academic satisfaction.

A person’s age, health, disability, and mental illness are additional variables that may impact their autonomy. For instance, because of their deteriorating health and increased dependence on help, older persons frequently feel less autonomous.

Consequences of a Lack of Autonomy

An individual’s well-being can be severely impacted by a lack of autonomy. People who lack autonomy believe that other forces are in control of their thoughts, feelings, and actions. They may make decisions driven by the urge to appease others or their fear of unfavourable outcomes because they believe they are unable to live their lives as they see fit. Several issues can arise from this lack of autonomy, such as:

  • Insufficient drive
  • Reduced life satisfaction
  • Disengagement and apathy
  • Increased stress
  • Burnout;
  • Anxiety and despair
  • Reduced creativity
  • Guilt or fear
  • Resentment or anger
  • Lack of a sense of meaning or purpose
  • Feelings of mistrust

What makes a person Autonomous

There are many different sources of autonomy, and these can all have an impact on how people act and feel in terms of freedom and control. Parenting practices, early life events, and other facets of a person’s upbringing can have a big impact on their ability to act independently later in life. According to a well-known theory of child development, youngsters begin to feel autonomous between the ages of three and eighteen months. Kids make decisions at this age, such as dressing themselves, figuring out what foods they like to eat, and selecting the toys they want to play with.

  • Personal development: Autonomy gives people the freedom to make their own decisions and discover more about their interests, values, and identities. Autonomous living also promotes learning and development since it forces individuals to accept accountability for their decisions.
  • Level of freedom: A person’s degree of freedom to behave independently affects their capacity for autonomous action. This indicates that you can make decisions freely without feeling compelled to do so or afraid of facing consequences.

An Individual can have different degrees of autonomy. While some people fall Someplace else on the continuum, others could be extremely autonomous. Additionally, a person’s unique circumstances, shifting goals, and the situation’s qualities can all affect their level of autonomous behaviour.

Read More: 10 Best Books to read for Personality Development in 2024

The importance of people having a sense of control and self-direction in their lives is emphasized by the psychology of autonomy. According to research, autonomy is essential for motivation, health, and personal development. Respecting individual agency, encouraging choices, and cultivating intrinsic motivation are all components of cultivating autonomy. In the end, recognizing and valuing autonomy can result in happier, more fulfilling lives, better relationships, and better general functioning.

References +
  • MSEd, K. C. (2023, May 24). Autonomy in Psychology—What it means and how to be more autonomous. Verywell Mind.
  • Legault, L. (2016). The need for autonomy. In Springer eBooks (pp. 1–3).
  • Kapoor, A. (2023, May 22). Autonomy in Psychology: The importance of becoming autonomous in life. Calm Sage – Your Guide to Mental and Emotional Well-being.
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